Thursday, December 28, 2017

2018 – The year of the Volunteer Activist

2017 – What a year. The year of war, terror, fear, fear mongering, Trump, North Korea, anger and volunteering. I added volunteering because you just got to take something good from the year right? But wait up, how many people volunteered for the Trump campaign? Is this volunteering for good? There is a blog and a debate for the future. Even so, the words “low level volunteer” still echo in my mind.

I’ve been hanging around on this planet for almost 48 years now. I don’t think I’ve seen so much anger and divisiveness in my life. Everyone seems to be fighting. Black white. Rich poor. Arab Jew. Woman man. Religious atheist. Social media perpetuated this anger. You can’t read a news story on Facebook without reading the brawling in the comments section. Keyboard warriors have masses of courage.

You don’t see much compassion, love, forgiveness and tolerance on social media. You certainly don’t see much of this coming from our Governments. It’s enough to despair but I sense something is not quite right here.

Who benefits from us all fighting with each other? While we are all fighting are we simply distracted by what is really going on? Imagine if we paused the arguments put down our phones and devices and just had a look around us for a day.  Imagine if we just had a conversation about the growing divide between rich and poor and the disappearance of the middle class. Imagine if we saw refugees with our hearts instead of our minds and ignored the fear mongering driven by a government agenda supported by the press.

Who benefits from us all fighting with each other? While we are all fighting do we not notice that there is little difference between political parties? Kids will starve to death by the time we usually reach lunch time but we have our reality shows and dinner delivered on our apps to look forward to in the evening.

Who benefits from us all fighting with each other? Because above the noise of our arguments no one hears the cash registers ringing at the billions many of our governments spend on defence. And we won’t worry about that as long as we get a great New Year’s Eve fireworks display in major cities that costs millions upon millions. But that’s ok because the homeless get a free show too right?

Who benefits from us all fighting with each other? Because we get more time to go to the beaches due to the beautiful hot weather and those scientists are full of fake news.

Who benefits from us all fighting with each other? The answer is those who benefit from us all being distracted. And who are they? The status quo brigade. The elite. The powerful. The people who own you. Or like to think they do. Their biggest fear is the old adage “the people united will never be defeated”

Because united we find our humanity. United we see that we all breathe the same air and bleed the same colour. United there are no borders. United we seek equality and justice for all. United we know we produce enough resources on this earth to serve all. United we know there is cheaper cleaner energy.

And there is hope. In 2017 I’ve watched brave people around the globe take action for good. People volunteer to make a difference but are being choosier about where they volunteer. Activism is growing. I was once at a national conference where someone argued that activism and volunteerism were inherently different. I disagree. I believe the world will change for the good because of volunteer activists!

This year for the first time since the Iraq war I protested. Alerted by social media to the case of people who were being treated inhumanly, without compassion and with cruelty I decided to be on the right side of history and picked up my placard and sang my protest song. Because no more. Not in my name.

Here’s to the volunteer activist in 2018. But first, try and see all the distractions for what they really are.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Time for a Quality Mark in Volunteering because it matters!

The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement in Australia provide a sound framework for supporting the volunteer sector. The Standards are easy to follow and are adaptable to different organisation types and different forms of volunteering which reflect the diversity of this growing sector.

Direct benefits to organisations:

·         They provide good practice guidance and benchmarks to help organisations attract, manage and retain volunteers, and

·         Help manage risk and safety in their work with volunteers.

Direct benefits to volunteers:

·         They help improve the volunteer experience.

The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement (2015) are the intellectual property of Volunteering Australia. They are recognised within Australia as the best practice framework for volunteer involvement.

Additionally, Volunteering Australia will be developing a flexible, tiered voluntary certification, or ‘Quality Mark’ system to enable organisations to check how they are tracking in implementing the Standards.

This is great news for the volunteering sector and for the volunteer management profession. So many of our charity organisations rely on volunteers across the nation. But it is vital that they are being seen to do the right thing by volunteers and those who manage them.

People who may wish to volunteer should have guidance on how organisations value volunteers. In truth organisations that don’t value volunteering effort eventually run into strife anyway as volunteers vote with their feet if they are not treated well or “used” inappropriately.

Organisations that have the ability to resource Human resources and a plethora of other paid positions are doing volunteering a disservice if they engage volunteers but do not resource volunteer management. Volunteers do not come for free. I repeat volunteers do not come for free! Effective volunteer programs are adequately resourced with staff, training, development and recognition budgets.

A quality mark or best practice mark on volunteering standards will not be compulsory for organisations yet but it will push to the forefront those organisations that see the value of volunteering and effective volunteer management.

The Volunteer Management sector must get behind the National Standards as it advances our profession. Volunteers will get behind the National Standards as it goes to their rights and protection and all organisations with volunteers have a duty to implement these well researched industry standards!

Failure to do so may not have consequences as of yet. But if a quality mark is developed and an effective accreditation system put in place organisations that do not get on board will be left behind or volunteers and staff who are passionate about the mission they work for will demand to their leadership that their organisations have standards for volunteer involvement! Bring it on!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My personal pledge to be the voice for volunteer managers is...

Continue advocating for the importance of effective volunteer management in all volunteer involving organisations!
Argue for closer relationship and collaboration between associations of volunteer managers and peak bodies and other leading agencies in the volunteering sector!
Challenge silos and echo chambers within our volunteer management sector!
Demonstrate that volunteer management is a specialised skill that takes unique talent, dedication and hard work and when done effectively demonstrates authentic and transformative leadership that sets an example for leadership in other fields! 
Keep spreading the news on what an inspiring and awesome vocation volunteer management is and to encourage leaders of the future!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

20 Years A Volunteer Manager

At about this time In 1997 I first encountered a role where I was managing volunteers. The spice girls were all the rage. Mary Mcaleese was elected president of Ireland, the first time in the world that one woman had succeeded another as elected head of state. Bill Clinton was re - elected.

Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car crash. I remember the newsflash on TV like it was yesterday. Tiger won the masters at 21. Hale-Bopp came to have a look at Earth. John was PM in Australia while Tony ruled in the UK.

It was one heck of a year for the Adelaide Crows, Might and Power and Skip Away. People were dancing to MMMbop and Freak.

The International Year of Volunteers was declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1997. Australia, and in particular the 4,500 volunteer centres, played a significant role in petitioning for the year.

In 1997 Apple was a struggling computer company, AOL was a booming Internet service provider, Microsoft was on the verge of releasing Windows 98, and the Web was a very different place. There was no Google web page!

A youngish Irishman had the task of Managing a major Doorknock appeal for a Major Not for Profit in a Major Australian City. I had the belief back then that our dreams would be achieved by the assistance of volunteers. I gathered a team of inspiring Southbank TAFE students around me and together we recruited over 2000 volunteers to Doorknock and collect for our great cause. 80% of our volunteer collectors were high school students. And we did it! We surpassed our target. I knew then that volunteers could achieve anything. And so began my 20 years in volunteer management.

20 years later and I now reflect on one of the most inspiring and amazing professions one could choose. I have interviewed thousands of volunteers. I have hundreds of inspiring stories. I have seen friendships forged, people changed, lives impacted, tears of joy, lives comforted, communities helped, people helped, time committed, good deeds carried out, time sacrificed, love shared, smiles embraced, hugs a million and tears wiped dry.

I have seen people grow, people shine and people share. I have seen the very best of the human endeavour. In an oft negative world I have seen the most positive of people. I have seen real impact delivered by people giving up their time. I have seen heroes, quiet achievers, great leaders and simply wonderful human beings at their most humanitarian and compassionate.

I have encountered amazing colleagues across the globe. I count volunteer sector people as friends from the United States to New Zealand and from London to Adelaide and Toronto to Dublin and Cork!

What changes have I seen in my 20 years? This is for another blog post. This post is just for my celebration. If you are reading this and you have just started a career in volunteer management and/or coordination welcome to what can be a most life rewarding profession! Just know that we are a tight knit community around the globe and many of your colleagues are here for you!

I finish this little reflection to thank my colleagues around the world who have been there to support me and encourage me. I know that I can always count on you! That’s Volunteer Managers for you!

We are a profession. We make a difference.

And finally to volunteers. I would not be here without you. In 20 years you have never failed to cease inspiring me.

Thank you

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Volunteers. Volunteerism. Volunteer Management. Titles used to get more views on volunteer management blogs!

I haven’t blogged for a while. Been so busy with life and work. That happens. I’ve realised my blog is part of my life but not all of it. I come back here now and then to share A STORY or to impart some wisdom according to DJ Cronin!

I do have lots of stories to tell. But I was intrigued by an email I got today from Susan J Ellis. At the most recent Volunteer Manager conference in the US a group convened consisting of bloggers who blog about volunteer management. There happens to be a few. I imagine maybe 30 around the globe but I may be wrong.

A bloggers group met there. People who blog about volunteerism and volunteer management. And I admire them as I admire Susan (who I think is the reason so many of us have a voice today and for the fact that we consider ourselves a profession!)

Anyway I could not make this conference due to the fact that I could not gather a dollar to attend. (Happens to many volunteer coordinators around the world who are sometimes lucky to get a few coffee vouchers throughout the year)

And that kind of thinking led me to realise that I want to be there for those people who coordinate or lead or manage volunteers but have no budget! Its ok for me to say “If you are serious about your career then you will spend 70 bucks of your own money to join your “professional Association” If you are serious about being a volunteer management professional then you should spend hundreds if not thousands of your own dollars on professional development.

 Most of your regular volunteer coordinators or managers cannot afford professional development. And Guess why? Most of your regular volunteer coordinators or managers are poorly paid! And most of them get no budget. Yes….no budget….not just a small budget! Sometimes trainers and consultants forget this. This should not be the case because this needs to be a serious organisational policy! But there is no one there to push this through organisations. Or peak bodies are too busy dealing with Governments lack of intelligence of all matters volunteering.

But back to the bloggers group for I digress!

Groucho Marx once said that he would never want to be a member of a CLUB that would accept his membership. I’m wondering about a bloggers group and hoping that this blog gets their first debate going!

Blog about people who will never afford professional development because their organisations place no value on volunteer management

 Over to you

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Volunteering and the donation of time.

Sam walks in the door of a major Not for Profit and stands at the reception desk. “Good morning” he says “I have quite a substantial amount of money to donate and I would like to discuss this with someone.” I can pretty much guarantee you that the receptionists face will light up that calls will be made and that Sam will be seen very quickly. Sam has become a donor. Sam will never be called “just a donor”. Sam will get newsletters and emails and they will talk about Impact. He will know how his contribution is making a difference. He will be given plenty of other opportunities to donate in different areas. He may become a regular donor. He is important. He will be treated as such.

Alicia walks in the door of a major Not for Profit and stands at the reception desk. “Good morning” she says “I have quite a substantial amount of time to donate and I would like to discuss this with someone.” The receptionist may well look befuddled. Alicia may need to emphasise that she would like to volunteer. Then she may be referred to a website or given some paperwork to fill in. They might try to contact the under pressure volunteer coordinator to see if they have time but they may well not be answering their phone because they are training and have no support resources to be able to handle the query.

After going home and waiting a week Alicia is invited in for an interview. She is asked to fill in a police check for the admin role she is interested in. She also has another three or four forms to fill out. She must understand the code of conduct. She attends the interview and is grilled about her motivation. Nobody once mentions that she has been a senior partner in a law firm for most of her life although it was in the CV that was sent in. She wonders if it was read.

She is told that unless she commits for 12 months she can’t volunteer. Inwardly she smiles at this non-binding and non-legal contract.  She states she will do her best.

She is invited to a four hour induction. Most of the time is spent on what she cannot do. Rules are set. She can’t figure out why the person doing the induction is talking to them as though they were children. She cringes when she is referred to as a “Vollie”

In the next room Sam is at a morning tea. He is enjoying home-made scones with jam and cream as the CEO explains the impact they all make. No checks and no paper work hinder his donation.

Alicia toddles off after her induction. She has been “told” what to do but not informed about the difference volunteers make. She decides not to come back. Something was just not right. She decides to volunteer money instead.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

Inspiring - A tale from Volunteers in the field during Disaster

Fred Rodgers once said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
Over the last few weeks Queenslanders and our cousins in NSW in Australia  have not only seen scary things on the news they have literally experienced it due to Cyclone Debbie and its effects. And our Red Cross helpers have been there from members to volunteers and from staff to supporters.
It was a Friday night when I got the call “can you help us in our operations centre tomorrow?” and like Red Cross people across the state there was no hesitation and I was at Humanity place the following morning at 8am. I had been activated once before due to a fire on Russell Island but this was different. This was a disaster on a much larger scale. The centre was full of people. “Can you be deputy Opps?” I was asked. I nervously accepted not even sure what I’d be doing. But now was not the time for too many questions. Many people were giving new things a go. It was all “hands in”. Immediately we felt a sense of trust in our leadership team whose training for such events kicked in straight away.
Learning by doing should never be underrated and soon I was in the thick of it assisting the operations manager and building our Ops team for the coming days. We were responsible for looking after our people on the ground ensuring they had the tools to assist and ensuring we had the right people at the right time in the right places.
As we got stuck in I was amazed at what occurred around me. Very few people knew each other on my first day. People had arrived from further afield in Queensland and from interstate. Strangers on day one, we were soon bonding with our mission to help the many thousands suddenly made vulnerable in our community. We were starting at the crack of dawn and finishing late together. Time did not matter and by the end of the five day deployment we would have done anything for each other with new friendships being forged, friendships that will last a lifetime.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. There were times of frustrations. A printer breaking down, a mobile dying, a computer freezing would test your patience as would a miscommunication or a look taken wrongly. But continuous team meetings and debriefing kept us grounded. What mattered most though was how people were treating each other. A thumbs up from across the room or a heartfelt hug from a team member got people through the testing times. There was a sense that we knew that any challenge we faced paled into insignificance when compared to the challenges our community were experiencing.
On the final day of this deployment I led a team of 15 volunteers into the field for outreach into the Beenleigh and Logan areas. This was the most humbling experience of all. I was now with volunteers in the field. We came face to face with people impacted by devastation. Some people had been cut off from the rest of the world for days. Some had lost power for days and had lost all their food. As we drove down one street with community recovery officers I looked with shock at the houses where their appliances were now rubbish on their footpaths. Washing machines, clothes, mattresses and toys lined the street. I could see where the water had reached on the lampposts and street signs – twice my height!
The resilience of the people struck me the most and their gratefulness. The other thing that struck me instantly was their reaction to seeing the Red Cross. Apprehensive as we pulled up in our car, as soon as they saw our emblem you could see they relaxed. They knew we were the helpers. I held hands with mothers and their kids. Spoke to dads out fixing their yards. As we all returned to our base, volunteers brought their stories with them. Raghu who had just commenced as a volunteer told us that at one house a woman sat with him and cupping his face with her hands had cried for five minutes without a word being exchanged. Afterwards she thanked him for allowing her to do so as she had been holding her emotion in for days.
Being in the field, more than anything I’ve ever done at Red Cross, showed me why we do what we do. It made sense of everything we do – the work and long hours in the operation centre, the training our volunteers undertake, the dedication of our members and volunteers, the trauma teddies and why we work in Voluntary Service.  This was our Power of Humanity and it deepened my commitment to the Red Cross.
The deployment came at the same time I was starting a new team of nine volunteers at our volunteer hub. Suddenly the response to this disaster became more important. And wouldn’t you know it – all 9 volunteers made themselves available to Emergency Services instead and continue to assist in the operations centre and in the field.
On Saturday I commence another deployment. My team will join me again. Members and volunteers and staff will join the next wave of helpers. I realise now that nothing differentiates us. We are the helpers. There are still so many helpers. The world is a better place because of them!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Enough of the constant struggles in Volunteer Management

As a person who had been in the volunteer management sector for 20 years this year I am privileged that I know volunteer managers around the world.

I have made great friends in the sector. It happens. Meeting people from around the world who are as passionate about Volunteer management as you are is a pleasure and a privilege.

Although I don’t blog as much these days I often hear from people in our sector through my email, my blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Something happened in the last week that inspired this blog. I have changed the names. Sandra has been a Volunteer Manager for 15 years. Last week she sent me a heartfelt email. She had finally given up the ghost of her role. “After 15 years I’ve had enough of the constant struggles within the sector to be appreciated and recognised. Specifically by my own manager and organisation. Sometimes you need to put your health first”

Wow! So much for length of service!

In the same week I heard from Mark. In the sector for about 15 years he is thinking of leaving. Why? “I just feel that in our organisation volunteering always come last. We are given a room that can best be described as a cupboard and we get no financial support at all” And he goes on “ We are like an afterthought”

Volunteers as an afterthought. In our sector. In 2017. And we think we are making progress.

What’s kept me in this sector for 20 years? I have been lucky. Because of my passion and interest in speaking about my experience I have come in contact with global thought leaders on volunteering. I’ve worked with Martin J Cowling and Andy Fryar from Australia. I’ve presented with Rob Jackson from the UK. I’ve worked alongside Jayne Cravens from the US and written for and met Susan J Ellis. I’ve met with Sue Kobar from NZ and Sue Jones from England.

Name dropping? No. I’ve simply been lucky that these thought leaders have come into my life and I’ve had the ability to call on these people when I’ve needed to.

She won’t like me saying it because she is a very humble lady but I wouldn’t be still in the sector if it wasn’t for Susan J Ellis. Once I was close to leaving the sector. The reasons are what volunteer managers go through every day. But in a Skype call that got Susan out of bed one early morning she was there for me.

And as I struggled to remain in the sector Andy Fryar and Jayne Cravens were like good buddies: always there with words of encouragement!

So I was lucky. I remained in the sector. I moved jobs but I had the most supportive global network!

And I realise that not everyone has that!

As long as volunteering is seen as nice to have but not necessary we will struggle. I’ve argued for years that the value you put in your organisations volunteers is directionally proportional to your Volunteer Management.

When I hinted at this blog on Twitter someone replied that we have improved immensely. I don’t know. It worries me that people leave the sector due to lack of support. Two people reached out to me in the last week. Why could they not talk honestly to their networks? Why could they not send their communication to their association for volunteer managers? This is the bread and butter stuff that associations need to be there for. Stop being there because your board status seems fancy or it enhances your resume. Be there as an activist to support your Volunteer Manager!

I write this for those thinking of leaving the sector. People have helped me. Please email me if I can help you before you quit.

Because I get it. And I care.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

At long last - an event that promises to concentrate on the needs of our Volunteer management profession - Let us see!

The 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership: Mapping Our Future, Strengthening Our Voice, is scheduled for July 26-28 in St. Paul, Minnesota

Even though this is an American conference, they really hope to attract participants from many countries.

Click into the Summit Web page and you can read about the event’s vision and goals as well as logistical information. While the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is the official sponsor, the conference is being planned by colleagues from more than a dozen states and they do want to gather a national (even international) audience.

I have long wished for a similar conference here in Australia so I am hoping that we can gain some valuable learning from this conference. With an expected attendance of 500 it will be a wonderful opportunity to bring together some thought leaders from our sector.

The few other major conferences in our field scatter attention to diverse tracks, of which the skills of volunteer engagement are simply one of many choices. But this will be an event that proposes to put the profession of volunteer management front and centre. 

Let’s hope too that it will be a major success thus driving other nations to do the same. Our sector deserves something new and bold. Lets hope this conference delivers.

Footnote: I am going to keep a close watch of this. If I see that its the same topics and workshops run by the same people with the same message that they have been sprouting for 20 years I am going to call it. The problem with the sector in its high turnover can be advantageous for some as so called experts can rehash the same mantra year after year. Not any more. Be brave, be different, be ground-breaking and lets hear some new voices to advance the sector because if you are doing the same workshop on advancing the sector that you were doing ten years ago then I'm calling that. Watch This Space!

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